NFTE Teacher Dorothea Mackey Explores Sustainable Business Through World Series of Innovation

Dorothea Mackey is a long-time NFTE Teacher from Stamford High School in Stamford, CT. Like most NFTE teachers, Dorothea is entrepreneurial by nature. She modeled the entrepreneurial mindset for her students – and demonstrated her creativity and innovation – when she won a 2018 grant from the Dalio Foundation’s Fund for Teachers initiative to support professional learning efforts.

As a Fund For Teachers Fellow and grant recipient, she embarked on a self-designed professional learning odyssey over the summer, traveling to Africa, and returning with new insights, connections and tools to benefit her students.

She traveled to Mozambique, Africa, to create a case study on the Sunshine Nut Co. and Fair Trade Tourism to inspire entrepreneurship students in the creation of business plans incorporating sustainability and social responsibility.

So how did this idea get sparked and ultimately end up taking this enterprising NFTE teacher halfway around the world to do her research on the continent of Africa? Inspiration hit with NFTE’s World Series of Innovation (WSI) in the fall of 2017. NFTE’s World Series of Innovation is a project-based online competition that invites young entrepreneurs ages 13-24 to form small teams and create business solutions that align with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or solve 21st century business challenges.

Young innovators from across the globe enter the competition every year, competing for cash prizes. Some teams compete independently, some are affiliated with schools or youth development organizations, and some undertake a challenge as a guided classroom project.

She became intrigued by the UN’s 2020 goals on sustainability outlined in the challenge. Dorothea, who has a BS in finance, an MBA in accounting, and a MS in teaching, believes that US businesses must be ethical, sustainable, and do right by its people. She is passionate about business and believes that ethical businesses models deserve recognition.

Dorothea and her NFTE class examined fair trade businesses vs. free businesses vs. sustainable businesses. To inspire her students’ interest around ethical business models, she began looking at mission statements of businesses which enacted sustainability practices in their business models.

She drew connections between the WSI challenge of SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, and the sustainable business practices that were taking place with real-world businesses. Dorothea and her class looked into two sustainable businesses with strong mission statements, Sunshine Nut Co. of Mozambique and the iconic American company, Ben & Jerry’s. As their research into sustainable business models deepened, she noticed how the students took a particular interest in Sunshine Nut Company’s story. As they continued to explore this sustainable model, Dorothea took and innovative and organic in-person approach; the class tried the product, investigated farms in Connecticut, and as a byproduct of their enthusiasm, she even encouraged her students to get involved in farmer’s markets.

Launching into the discovery of sustainable business practice models with her class inspired Dorothea to apply for a Fund for Teacher grant, as an opportunity to take it one step further. This grant would enable her to study sustainability and fair trade practices at the actual Sunshine Nut Co. in Mozambique and Fair Trade Business and Tourism in South Africa.

The process for applying for the grant was extensive. Dorothea had to come up with a detailed purpose of the grant, identify students in her school who would benefit from her experience, breakdown the socioeconomic background in her school, talk about how it would benefit the students and the community, how the activities she wants to do abroad are aligned to her classroom curriculum, how she can bring back and share with her students her experience, and how she can affect the change and spark more interest in her students.

The essay ended up being a 20-page report about school, students, and community. Barbara Dahlio, the benefactor of the program, who personally looks for precise detail in all components of the project said that the “thought around this project, along with the key element being that the businesses are ethical; kids should know and have examples of those businesses.”

Along with the Sunshine Nut Co., Dorothea ultimately chose South Africa as the place to do her study on Fair Trade Tourism because the country is heavily reliant on sustainable business practice for their development. She was able to travel to Mozambique and connect with the CEO from the Sunshine Nut Co. and take part in an outreach project of building a school and orphanage in the region. She was also able to choose how she wanted to gain the hands on experience of sustainable business and what businesses she wants to visit in South Africa, stay at a hotel that has a low carbon footprint mission, meet with the Fair Trade Council & fair trade companies in Cape Town, and meet with people at the University of Cape Town to study sustainable business.

From this rich experience she has plans to return to teach her students that business practices that were prevalent in the past, do not have to reflect the future, as well as, some of the tumultuous and reforming South African history, focusing on Nelson Mandela and Apartheid.

Dorothea would like to “encourage more educators to see opportunities in things like WSI, to take risks and lead by example by getting out of their usual environment and putting their feet in someone else’s shoes.”